Know what to expect when landing in Japan…
As with most locations, make sure you fill out your immigration and customs paperwork on the plane before arrival.
Your first stop will be immigration. Immigration is well marked and there is always someone to direct you to the correct line – but essentially there are three separate lines: Japanese citizens, those with working visas and re-entry, and foreigners. Japanese immigration is orderly and relatively fast.
Immediately after immigration you will go to baggage claim. This is the place to go to the bathroom when waiting on your bags. This is also very orderly. There will be a line around the conveyor belt. Don’t cross it. By waiting patiently until you see your bag, everyone can see and there are no crowds. It is amazing and you will immediately wish the rest of the planet was as patient, organized and respectful as the Japanese.
Customs will follow baggage claim. For some reason I don’t fully understand, I always found customs to be the slowest part of the process. It is probably because it is also so orderly.
For both immigration and customs, even though they will speak English, when interacting with the officials, it is polite to say hello - Kon'nichiwa and do a slight bow of your head.
If you have a choice of airports, I recommend Haneda instead of Narita. It is closer to the city center and will save you about 90 minutes on arrival and departure. Both will cost about the same.
For both airports, public transportation (train or bus) is the easiest method to get to and from the airport. The key for both is you need to know where you want to go – before your trip, make sure look up or ask your lodging about the closest landmark or train station. Some common city centers include Shinjuku, Ueno, or Tokyo Station.
Narita Airport Train: For the train, follow the signs underground. Once in the station, there are two options – Skylinner or Narita Express. I always base my decision on the line for tickets and when the next train leaves. You can find your exact route on the airport’s website.
Narita Airport Bus: For the bus, as soon as you walk out of customs and walk straight ahead, you will see a counter on your left and kiosks on your right. The line for the counter will be longer but they will speak some English. However, there is often someone to help you with the kiosk. Your ticket will have a bus stop number. Continue straight (with customs behind you) and go down to the ground level. The bus stops are well marked and it is easy to find the appropriate location. Please note that a bus will arrive about every 5 minutes, so don’t get in line until your bus is next. Large bags will go underneath the bus and your ticket will be taken by the driver. Don’t take up more than one seat until you are on your way out of the airport complex.
Haneda Airport Train: There are two options: take the monorail to one of its three stops and then switch to the train or take the Keikyu Line towards Shinagawa (Tokyo). I always stick with the Keikyu line.
Haneda Airport Bus: The bus from Haneda is just as easy. There are no machines but the counter will be straight ahead, slightly to the left.
The train is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Tokyo. Unless you are loaded and love traffic, don’t consider a taxi. The Japanese rail card is a great option for tourists, or you can buy a Suica card (like a local). I always used a Suica card.
Google maps or Hyperdia will provide train directions. I would ensure you download both. Maps.me is less reliable for the train but works offline if you lose your signal. The trains can feel intimidating but are pretty simple. As a tourist you may never figure out if you are on an express, rapid, semi-rapid or local train – I mixed this up after years. But it is not a big deal. Other than that, follow the signs, make sure you are on the right platform and headed in the right direction.